This morning, I continued reading "Cleaving" by Julie Powell (of "Julie and Julia" fame), which got me thinking: where is MY nearest butcher? The last time I was at a butcher was with my mom in suburbia when I was really young (ten?) to get meat for our family party. There have to be butchers in Chicago, especially some in my neighborhood, right?
So I turned to yelp.
There's quite a few butchers in Chicago and I am excited to go to a place that is exclusively a butcher (when I know exactly what I want to make before arriving - going to a butcher doesn't strike me as a I'll-decide-when-I-get-there kind of deal.) But today, I was intrigued by an Asian grocery store that I always see at the Argyle Red Line stop: Tai Nam Food Market. The yelp reviews were overwhelmingly positive and mentioned that there is a butcher, so I grabbed my shopping bag and headed there. I always forget just how close Argyle is to where I live - it seems like a whole different world - but is a two or three minute train ride. In the store, I was one of five non-Asians. I wandered up and down every aisle perusing the products. My eyes lit up when I saw their wide variety of rice noodles. I knew to be careful when buying non-American products because of allergen declaration differences (or lack of) in other countries, but I was excited to see so many noodles saying "Ingredients: Rice Flour." There were also a good number of "Ingredients: Wheat Flour" noodles, so I reassured myself that my choices were safe. I bought a few different varieties including dried tapioca slices, rice macaroni in twist and elbow varieties, and yellow rice noodles. The most expensive one was $1.25!!! Talk about a savings - I have only ever seen gf pasta for $2.00 on a super sale, it is normally +$3.00 a box or bag! I bought one of a few different varieties to make sure that I do not get sick from them before stocking up.
I bought some fresh produce and headed over to the butcher section of the store. I grabbed a chicken in a bag and as soon as I lifted it up, I saw the chicken staring back at me. No thanks. I don't like my meat to still have a face I can see. I instead got .75 pounds of pork tenderloin for $1.81 and decided I would have to stop somewhere else for a whole chicken because when I want a whole chicken, I do not really want A Whole Chicken.
Proud of myself for saving so much money by shopping at this grocery store, I detoured to their cookware section. (This is a HUGE store.) They had a really nice selection of plates, soup bowls, rice bowls and soup spoons. So I bought two of a few different things. I splurged. But the prices were right and I love the design. Besides, I am cooking a lot more Asian dishes, so I should have the appropriate dishware, right? This was the part of my shopping trip where a really sweet elderly lady came up to me and asked if I knew how to use chopsticks. I let her know that I did and she proudly told me that her grandchildren ("Who are American!") already knew how to! Seriously, did my whiteness stick out that badly? It was a really pleasant encounter - this lady probably thinks that I know nothing about Asian cooking. I'll put myself as an advanced beginner. ;-)
I headed home and began cooking my three-course dinner: appetizer, soup and main dish. All of the recipes came from "400 Thai and Chinese Delicious Recipes for Healthy Living." This was a Borders bargain section find for $7.99 (the price tag is still on it.) It's a great book with a wide variety of recipes, but my main problem with the book is that healthy living means low fat/calories (which is true for most Asian dishes). So I need to figure out ways to sneak extra calories into some of these dishes because they are really tasty and easy to cook.
I began with the Crunchy Summer Rolls using round rice papers (the ingredient that started this whole dinner.) I shredded some lettuce, julienned some carrots (my knife skills got better with each one), cooked my cubed pork tenderloin and washed some bean sprouts. I was planning on also adding mint and coriander leaves, but the flavor was a little too overwhelming for me. Rolling the wrappers was really easy after I figured out the best way to soak the rice papers. Rather than having 2-3 soak at a time, soak them individually. They really only need 30-60 seconds to soak before they are pliable and ready to use. Every time I took one out of the water to roll, I added a dry one to my bowl. Once I made a few, I placed a damp paper towel over my rolls, wrapped the plate in saran wrap and stuck them in the fridge and started the next dish.
Sometimes when I'm cooking nowadays, I choose a recipe and am about to start cooking and then really read the recipe and get stumped. I've never worked with lemon grass (or even recall eating it) before, but I found some on my shopping trip and was about to rinse them off when I realized I had no idea how to make my lemon grass "lightly bruised," let alone which parts were edible. Some quick Internet searching later, I was able to resume cooking. The soup took over three hours to make - the inital simmering takes two hours. I made a more Americanized version of the soup (sans coriander, fish sauce, and chilies) but the lemon grass still gave it a really rich texture. This was a really great tasting soup and I foresee making Chicken Rice Soup with Lemon Grass more in the future. I think I ended up with six generous servings - I love frozen leftovers!
The last thing I cooked was Chicken with Mushrooms. When I was telling my mom about the dinner I was making, she responded with "But you don't eat mushrooms." I said that "I do now." Granted, I used probably a quarter of a cup of mushrooms with three chicken breasts... This was really easy to make - it was a simple stir fry with a sherry, soy sauce and sugar mixture with chicken broth (scooped directly out of the stock pot that was sitting inches away - you don't get much fresher than that!).
Overall, I had a great dinner with recipes that I can use again - probably on their own next time because I had a LOT of food leftover! (Not to mention the amount of dishes!)